I started falling in love with books when I was eleven or twelve years old, and my parents happily agreed with my newly discovered hobby. They brought me to the bookstore once every few months, and would buy me two or three books of my choice. When I strolled into Borders, I walked straight for the TEEN / YOUNG ADULT section. I browsed the shelves, made my choices, and told my parents when I was done. We went to the checkout counter, paid, left, and I thanked them. Every single trip, it was the same thing.
My parents never, not once, asked to see my book choices.
You might think, well, maybe you had parents who expose their children to anything, appropriate or not. Or, maybe even you had terrible parents who did not care about you enough to worry about your reading material. You would be wrong in both cases. My parents have always been very protective and concerned about me. They knew where I was at all times, who I was with, what I was doing, and were always present in my life. They always made sure that I was making good choices in my life.
So, why did my (slightly controlling) parents never check my book choices?
It is because my parents trusted me. They trusted me to know what I was ready to read and to know right from wrong (and be able to discern both from the content of my newly purchased novels). They trusted me to make good decisions, to use books as a learning experience. They trusted me to realize that novels are not real, and that my life will not always reflect the ones presented in the story.
I’m sure they realized, at one point or another, that some of those YA novels featured sex, drugs, alcohol, cursing, and et cetera. But, they still encouraged my reading. They trusted me to learn from those stories and from the "bad behavior" featured in some of them. They preferred to have me read about those subjects in order to learn, as opposed to shielding me and possibly leading me to make those mistakes in my own life.
YA novels taught me that I never want to do drugs. I learned that sex should be meaningful, and it should be something both parties are prepared for (including unintended consequences, such as pregnancy or STI’s). I learned to never cheat, and even if it means failing. I learned that alcohol can make people do stupid things, and I have yet to touch even a drop, despite the fact that I am legally of age to drink. I learned that people curse, and at the end of the day, those are merely words. They cannot hurt you, unless you let them. I learned that some words can, however, hurt others who are sensitive. I learned to treat others the way I want to be treated.
I learned how to be the best version of myself through YA literature that is routinely challenged for banned for featuring “adult” or “questionable” content.
Now, I am a college student with two Associate degrees, and I will also (hopefully) earn a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature this spring. And, honestly, I feel that I have done well in life so far. I know I owe that to my parents, but also to the novels I read as a teenager. Those stories shaped who I am, and I will always be grateful for them. I will always be grateful to my parents for never telling me “You can’t read this” and even more grateful that they let me read anything and everything. Instead of censoring, they let me learn and grow through literature. They let me read about the "uglier" side of life, and I am a better person for it.
I understand why some adults are nervous when it comes to letting their teenagers read YA novels that have cursing, sex, abuse, and etc. I understand completely. But, many of these topics are already in every teenager’s daily life.
I had friends who had sex as teenagers. I decided to wait.
I had friends who drank alcohol and did drugs as teenagers. I refused.
I had friends who cursed like sailors as teenagers. I…well, I cursed as a teenager. Barely.
The truth is that you cannot protect teenagers and children from everything.
Literature is a safe haven. Let them read, and discuss it with them. Better yet, let them read, and allow them the chance to discover right from wrong on their own. If you cannot do that, I’m sorry. I wish you could, for the sake of your child(ren), who could learn so much from those novels that you are currently waving in the air and urging other adults to ban from schools and libraries.
If you do censor your children’s reading material, I hope that you do not extend this censorship to public schools or libraries. You do not have to right to take books away from other people. I would never walk up to you and tell you what you or your child can and cannot read. If I did, you would be annoyed with me. Furious, even. I realize you only want to help, but you are hurting many teenagers by taking away literature that can change their lives for the better.
I read YA books with “questionable” content, adult books with adult content, and classics as a teenager. Thanks to those novels, I made good life choices as a teenager, and I still try to do so as an adult. Reading those novels did not turn me into some sex-crazed, alcoholic, cursing, abusive person. They turned me into a young woman who tries to live happily and healthily, who always tries to be kind to others, and who strives to learn as much as possible.
I think I turned out pretty well. I think your teenager will turn out pretty well, too, so long as you give them the opportunity to learn from literature. While sharing darker issues with your child is scary, it will help them grow. I hope you give them a chance to do so. I hope you look at literature and see it as a tool for learning, not as the enemy.
I hope you embrace literature, because literature will never hurt you. Literature will show you mistakes you should avoid in life and teach you new ideas and perspectives. But, at the end of the day, YOU are the only person who can decide what you will learn from every story. There is not a single book that will force you to believe or behave in positive or disagreeable ways. You make that choice, all on your own.
SOME BOOKS THAT I READ AS A TEENAGER (Both YA and Adult Literature):
PRIVATE series by Kate Brian
SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson
HARRY POTTER series by JK Rowling
DREAMLAND by Sarah Dessen
THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER by Sarah Dessen (and other Dessen novels)
WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson
ENDER'S GAME by Orson Scott Card
THE OUTSIDERS by S.E. Hinton
THE GIVER by Lois Lowry
GOSSIP GIRL by Cecily von Ziegesar
THE BERMUDEZ TRIANGLE by Maureen Johnson
DEVILISH by Maureen Johnson
ERAGON by Christopher Paolini
THE LUXE by Anna Godbersen
THE JOY LUCK CLUB by Amy Tan
JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte
THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain
THE THINGS THEY CARRIED by Tim O'Brien
THE DA VINCI CODE by Dan Brown
ROMEO AND JULIET by William Shakespeare
MACBETH by William Shakespeare
THE SCARLET LETTER by Nathaniel Hawthorne
MOBY DICK by Herman Melville
THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald
OF MICE AND MEN by John Steinback
THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD by Zora Neale Hurston
THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinback
LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding
NIGHT by Elie Weisel
IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote
HONEST ILLUSIONS by Nora Roberts
THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL by Philippa Gregory
And many more!